Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Star of the Sea


Stella Maris – Star of the Sea. This mystical title given to the Virgin Mary portrays her as standing like a beacon miraculously among the waves on the curling sea foam, and is believed to date as far back as the 9th-century. But to discover the true origins of this image we need to broaden the search – and our own horizons – towards more ancient seas, and to remember that the Goddess has many faces.   

The Goddess endures. She is more powerful than any attempts to confine her to any one doctrine, and she changes both her form and her name as she adapts to circumstances. She has been elevated to become the principal icon of the Catholic Church, for the Church is itself the unwitting servant of the Goddess. To see her in another form we need look no further than that familiar icon, not of religion, but of art: Botticelli’s famous Birth of Venus. Emerging gracefully from the sea foam, Venus is herself the Roman version of the Ancient Greek Aphrodite, who is always associated with the sea which gave her birth. 

So our quest after the Star has already brought us to Ancient Greece. Can we journey back even further? The Babylonian goddess Ishtar is also linked to a star – or at least, what the Ancients thought of as a star, but which we know to be a planet, a ‘wandering star’. Ishtar was absorbed into Greek culture as Astarte, who in turn became Aphrodite/Venus. The morning and the evening star are both the planet Venus, and the ancients saw Ishtar as being graced with both a five-pointed and an eight-pointed star. The five-pointed star is now familiar to us as the pentagram, but where does the eight-pointed star come from? The Babylonians observed the heavens meticulously, and they must have noted that the planet Venus seems to follow a path through the heavens that traces out a five-pointed pathway – over exactly an eight-year period. So Ishtar has her star. But what of the sea?  

The old Testament’s Book of Jeremiah mentions a goddess described as the Queen of Heaven – the goddess Asherah, who in ancient times was known as the ‘Lady of the sea’, or ‘She who treads on the sea’. Asherah was the consort of Yahweh, in the time before Judaism became monotheistic in its beliefs, and although the attempts to obliterate the goddess from scripture were largely successful, we can still catch glimpses of her in Jeremiah’s phrase – and also in the opening words of Genesis, which in the original Hebrew literally read: “In the beginning the gods created the heavens and the earth.” 

At the beginnings of civilization Mesopotamian clay tablets record the appearance of a brightly-shining light in the heavens – what we now know to be a supernova, an exploding star. Apparently this light was so bright that it was visible during the hours of daylight. And it made its sudden and dramatic appearance low down on the eastern horizon, which is where it stayed. To the dwellers overlooking what is now the Persian Gulf it would have appeared as if this star was emerging from the sea, and these ancient cultures do feature deities which came out of the sea. Even in Ancient Egypt, the title given to Horus, the child of Isis and Osiris, was ‘Horus-on-the-Horizon’. This spectacular heavenly event apparently had a great impact on human awareness, and much in the way of culture and learning began at that time, almost as if this stellar appearance had triggered something in the human imagination.

Stella Maris – Star of the Sea. This icon of both the church, of art, and of human culture takes us right back to the very dawn of civilization, and continues to surface in whatever form the Goddess finds appropriate to communicate with us. And what of Mary? Her true  origins are in her very name, for Mary is derived from ‘Mare’, meaning ‘The Sea’.     






2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this in depth research on the "Star of the Sea" and the divine feminine across religions and cultures. The Divine Mother goes back eons from time immemorial. Yet She (Divine Feminine) is alive and eternally present within us, not separated from us or the world we live in. In the Far East we have Kwannon (Japan), or Guanyin in Chinese, the Goddess of Mercy, who is actually a female manifestation of Avalokitesvara. A Bodhisattva is an entity that renounces the last liberation in order to help all sentient beings attain liberation first. A Bodhisattva is a symbol of pure unconditional love. During the Edo period in Japan when to profess to be Christian was punishable by death, many Christians displayed Mother Mary by using the image of Kwannon. In Tibet the female Bodhisattva Tara came from the tears shed by Avalokitesvara when he cried at all the suffering in the universe. There are several manifestations of Tara in Tibetan Buddhism, the Green Tara being the most common. It is interesting to note that the Green Tara is known as a protector from various dangers. It seems that the Divine Feminine is linked to being a savior, protector and rescuer in times of danger as a Mother always looks to protect her children. It may be of benefit for us to contemplate the attributes of the Divine Feminine. The world needs to embrace the unconditional love She emanates and incorporate this love into our lives.

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  2. Dear Joseph, you say: "It seems that the Divine Feminine is linked to being a savior, protector and rescuer in times of danger as a Mother always looks to protect her children."
    How right you are, considering the energy for instance of Kwan Yin, which is so much like what a mother feels for her child - it is fiercely loving and protective.
    And you conclude with: "It may be of benefit for us to contemplate the attributes of the Divine Feminine. The world needs to embrace the unconditional love She emanates and incorporate this love into our lives." Yes, that is what we are striving for.
    Thank you, my friend.

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